SpaceX is checking off milestones at an impressive pace lately, and yesterday’s successful launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida was no different. Following a weather scrub 48 hours earlier, the skies cooperated Saturday for a 5:07 p.m. EDT liftoff from historic pad 39A. It was the 100th flight off the former Apollo and space shuttle launch complex, and the first mission to employ a reused Dragon cargo capsule.
The sixth flight of a Falcon-9 off 39A went as flawlessly as the five before it, marking cargo run #12 to the ISS for SpaceX (1 COTS Demo flight in May 2012 and 11 CRS flights since). Assuming its safe arrival to the ISS tomorrow (Monday), Dragon CRS-11 will mark the 11th of the company’s spacecraft to reach station, being that CRS-6 was lost on launch.
But SpaceX also aimed for a secondary objective after putting Dragon on intercept for the ISS; landing the rocket’s first stage booster back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station “Landing Zone (LZ) 1”, just a few miles south of 39A. As noted in our CRS-11 launch report yesterday by Ben Evans:
“SpaceX’s record of bringing its Falcon hardware back through the ‘sensible’ atmosphere has evolved considerably over the last three years. The provision of landing legs and hypersonic grid fins on the Falcon 9 v1.1 allowed for four “controlled oceanic touchdowns” of first stages in April, July and September 2014, followed by four mixed-success attempts to physically land on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean.
Only on the maiden flight of the Upgraded Falcon 9 in December 2015 was a perfect controlled touchdown achieved; a success sweetened yet further by the fact that it did so on solid ground, at LZ-1. Since then, with the exception of three ASDS landing failures in January, March and June 2016, six returning Falcon first stages have touched down perfectly on the drone ship—the most recent instance being 30 March’s SES-10 mission—and another three have alighted on LZ-1.”
SpaceX nailed LZ-1 landing #4 yesterday, less than eight minutes after departure from 39A, captured in the series of images below.
WATCH LIVE COVERAGE of Dragon’s arrival at the ISS Monday morning on our CRS-11 Launch Tracker, beginning at 8:30 a.m. EDT, as NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson use the station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon
SpaceX is aiming to launch several commercial satellites this summer, both from Kennedy’s 39A in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, with CRS-12 expected to fly later in August. At the same time, preparations for their highly-anticipated inaugural launch of the mammoth Falcon Heavy, a triple-barreled version of their current Falcon-9, are well underway, with testing on the individual rocket cores being conducted at SpaceX’s proving grounds in McGregor, TX.
The company remains confident they can launch the beast this fall.
BELOW: CRS-11 Photo Coverage, Credit: Alan Walters and John Studwell / AmericaSpace.com
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